Line managers are crucial to weathering the pandemic

New University of Southampton study looks at the role of line managers in helping firms manage their people during lockdown

Man in white shirt and suit puts encouraging hand on shoulder of employee wearing a shirt


A new study has shown how crucial line managers are. The report from the Institute for Employment Studies drew a direct link between how well companies have coped with lockdown and the role of their line managers. However it found they are often not given the support they need. 

The IES report is titled Working under Covid-19 Lockdown: Transitions and Tensions. The researchers found frequent contact with a line manager is a key determinant of better mental health during the pandemic. A good line manager can spot the early signs of anxiety, stress and loneliness. However they found the pandemic had also exposed poorly equipped line managers who lack the necessary empathy.

Interviewees in the study shared stories of line managers going to extraordinary efforts to support their teams. One said, “My manager has been extremely supportive and I think that makes all the difference. We have very open one-to-ones and I say how I’m feeling about things. I feel really lucky.”


But the study found only a minority of line managers had received any guidance on how to manage these new complexities of different work patterns caused by lockdown and newly geographically dispersed teams. Line managers carried the extra burden without any adjustments being made to their workload, the report said.

The study also found lower self-investment in training during lockdown. Only one in three (33%) employees said they’d engaged in extra training or learning to enhance their skills.

And the study found working from home had exposed some line managers who lack empathy and the necessary people skills needed to navigate managing teams in a new way.

It called on employers to look after their line managers. Bosses ought to recognise the extra work they have been doing during the pandemic, develop standards for good line management, with a greater emphasis on the social and interpersonal skills needed to support, motivate and engage people through changing circumstances and offer training that strengthens the management skills and capabilities that a likely hybrid model of working demands.

Who looks after line managers?

Principal Investigator Dr Jane Parry University of Southampton, said: “For many employees, line managers are the face of their organisation. They go beyond their job description and paid hours to look after others and help them shine. But who looks after them?”

Another report from the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) found that two-thirds of workers who shifted from the office to home during the pandemic felt less connected to their colleagues. More than half said they found it harder to switch off. For almost two in five the change to remote working had disturbed their sleep patterns. Around half said they are doing less exercise. Only a third had been offered support with their mental health.

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